Professionals who interpret forensic DNA are known as DNA analysts or forensic scientists. They work mainly in the field of criminal justice to collect and analyze DNA from physical evidence including firearms, glass, fibers, hair, bodily fluids and tissues. Forensic scientists work at investigation sites and laboratories, and are occasionally called to testify about their findings in court. A career in this field requires extensive education and preparation, including a bachelor's and master's degree, as well as on-the-job training.
Individuals interested in becoming DNA analysts or forensic scientists will need to earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. A limited number of schools are available in the United States that offer an undergraduate major in forensic science; students at colleges and universities that do not offer a forensic science major should major in one of the natural sciences including physics, biology, molecular biology or chemistry. Regardless of the major, future forensic scientists must complete coursework in mathematics, chemistry biology and physics, as well as general education and liberal arts classes in humanities, social sciences, computer science, language and communication.
DNA analysts will need a master's degree from an accredited graduate degree program. If available, students should major in forensic science; other options include specializing in genetics, chemistry or molecular biology. Curriculum should include coursework in crime scenes, concepts in physical evidence, the collaboration between law and science, ethics and professional responsibility, analytical chemistry, drug chemistry and toxicology, microscopy and material analysis, pattern evidence and forensic biology. Programs should include a laboratory and research components, as well as consistent interaction with forensic science professionals.
Graduates entering the job market as DNA analysts will require additional training in forensic science. Most employers provide on-the-job training in safety, professional conduct, policy, legal matters, handling of evidence and communication for reporting and trial purposes. Training can last anywhere from six months to three years.
DNA analysts who wish to increase their employment and earning potential should apply for voluntary certification through the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC). Certification requires candidates to have a bachelor's degree in one of the natural sciences, as well as two years work experience in the field of forensic science. After fulfilling the education and experience requirements, candidates must also pass a qualifying examination.
Forensic science is a rapidly advancing field. DNA analysts are required to complete periodic continuing education credits in order to remain current in their field.